Year in and year out, the FCS fields talented players and coaches across the country. Every season, the best of those individuals are honored with the subdivision’s national awards.
This year, the talent pool was deep yet again, but the award winners were clearly the right choices in their respective fields. Here’s a look at who took home the prizes for their outstanding showings in 2022.
Gevani McCoy - Jerry Rice Award
Idaho freshman signal-caller Gevani McCoy had a season to remember in Moscow. The Baldwin Hills, California native helped guide the Vandals to the playoffs for the first time since 1995 and accomplished several big feats along the way. McCoy threw for 2,719 yards and 27 touchdowns last fall while completing passes at a 68.5% clip. He wasn’t merely a passing threat, however, as he ran for three touchdowns as well.
McCoy had nine games this season in which he threw for over 200 yards and had five in which he threw for at least three scores. His best passing performance came against UC Davis in Week 11 where he threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns along with no interceptions. He also had a big performance against Montana back in October in which he completed 21-of-27 passes and helped UI reclaim the Little Brown Stein for the first time this century.
McCoy’s ability to keep plays alive even in clutch situations helped Idaho reach the seven-win threshold for the first time since 2016 (back when they were in the FBS) and nearly got them to the second round of the postseason. All of these accomplishments earned McCoy the Jerry Rice Award, an accolade given to the FCS’ best freshman. He is the first Vandal since quarterback Doug Nussmeier to win a major individual award and is also the first player in Idaho history to claim the Jerry Rice Award. He joins the likes of Shedeur Sanders, Cameron Ward and Trey Lance as players who have been given the honor in recent years.
Lindsey Scott Jr. - Walter Payton Award
No player in the country put up numbers like Incarnate Word’s Lindsey Scott Jr. and he was justly rewarded with the coveted Walter Payton Award. He was a human cheat code for the Cardinals in 2022, throwing for 60 touchdowns while rushing for another 11. Scott was one of only two FCS quarterbacks to throw for over 4,500 yards and led an offense that scored a whopping 51.5 points per contest. Some remote corners of the college football world even included the dynamic QB in their conversations for the Heisman Trophy.
UIW compiled a 12-2 overall record and reached the playoffs for just the third time in program history and made it clear to the semifinals where they gave North Dakota State a hell of a run. Scott was at the center of it all, throwing for seven touchdowns in a single game twice and putting up 332.6 yards per outing. In the postseason, he delivered the game of the year for UIW when he outshot the high-scoring Sacramento State Hornets 66-63. In that game he threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more all while avoiding interceptions. He often made the impossible look easy with circus-like highlights like the one below.
Scott is now the second Cardinals player (joining Cameron Ward in 2020) to win a national award and is the first UIW player to take home the Walter Payton Award. A career that kept him in the Southland with Nichols and Incarnate Word will be capped off later this winter with an appearance in the annual NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. It’s safe to say, though, that Scott’s 2022 run will go down in the history books as one of the best ever.
Zeke Vandenburgh - Buck Buchanan Award
Illinois State linebacker Zeke Vandenburgh was a force to be reckoned with last fall and he was awarded the Buck Buchanan Award for his efforts. Vandenburgh tallied 100 tackles with a staggering 21 coming behind the line of scrimmage. He spearheaded a Redbirds defense that sacked opposing quarterbacks 35 times (14 were his own) and allowed under 150 rush yards per contest.
Vandenburgh, who has accepted an invite to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, had six games this season in which he notched at least ten stops and only had one performance in which he didn’t register a TFL. His effectiveness went well beyond tackles, though, as Vandenburgh forced two fumbles, recovered one and nabbed an interception.
Although ISU didn’t make the playoffs, Vandenburgh still gave Redbirds fans a season to remember and ended his college career with a bang against Western Illinois on November 19 when he made 17 tackles and helped Illinois State pick up a 20-13 season finale win. Vandenburgh is the first Redbirds player to win a major national award.
John Stiegelmeier - Eddie Robinson Award
In what turned out to be the year of the Jackrabbits, it comes ad no surprise that head coach John Stiegelmeier walked away with the Eddie Robinson Award; an accolade he received even before SDSU dominated North Dakota State in the title game. After 26 years at the helm in Brookings, there’s not much left that Stiegelmeier has yet to prove but this season’s team was his best work yet.
Not only did the Jacks pick up 14 wins for the first time ever in a single campaign, they took down some of the country’s best teams while doing so, including North Dakota State (twice), Montana State, and even gave FBS Iowa a mighty scare on the road in Week 1. Stiegelmeier built a tenacious defense that only gave up 88 rushing yards per game. He also got the most out of his young players like sophomore QB Mark Gronowski and running back Isaiah Davis while also coaching up future NFL talent such as tight end Tucker Kraft.
No coach was more deserving of the honor this year than Stiegelmeier. South Dakota State look good enough to be a threat to the Missouri Valley and the FCS for the foreseeable future.